Tejas Nair | October 21, 2017
Rating – 8/10
Towards the end of Secret Superstar, a character utters few lines about the basic need of having and chasing dreams. She is doubtlessly inspired by another character who uttered those same lines previously during a heated verbal tiff. The authenticity in drama and the power that these characters have on you, much like how they have it on their co-characters, even while shouting at each other, are remarkable.
Advait Chandan’s debut feature, Secret Superstar, tackles two heavy subjects – domestic violence and chasing dreams. It is a definitive reflection of the patriarchal pit that we, or our women rather, live in. Self-taught amateur bass guitar player, occasional school-goer, and full-time dreamer Insia looks up to Bollywood music singers and follows them on the awards circuit, albeit on TV, with a dream to become one herself someday. There are many obstacles that are limiting her chances. The most virulent and relentless obstacle is in her own middle-class household – a hypocritical sadistic father who beats his wife at the drop of a spoon and controls his family like a merciless fascist government. Seeing Insia play with her guitar when she should be studying mathematics instead is already a good reason for him to lash out, so what happens when she creates a YouTube channel and moves an inch forward to her dream? The heated setting explodes, and the explosion is an arresting spectacle.
Director Chandan uses women living in oppression in a patriarchal household to craft a narrative that is a bit unrealistic and contrived from time to time. A theme last seen in Rima Das’s festival-favorite indie drama Village Rockstars, the film hopes to shed light into the dreams of young girls suppressed by their own people. A girl who prefers her father’s permanent absence and who is forced to travel miles without letting her folks know for fear of rebuke is the perfect example of the combination of audacity and determination required to tackle the obstacles, and Secret Superstar conveys that point across with some palpable drama and shades of quirkiness.
Aamir Khan is absolutely phenomenal as an idiosyncratic music producer known for his sexual escapades and bad temper. His presence on screen is like drinking Kool-Aid in scorching heat, and every time he appears, thirst automatically finds its way. It is characters like his that Chandan uses to support his ship. From the gaudy metallic print t-shirts that he wears to his oddball demeanour, Khan plays a character that is only second to Zaira Wasim’s Insia. She steals the limelight with her cheeks that go scarlet when she dreams and surprises herself, quarrels with her mother and close friend Chintan, and takes a stand for herself against the oppression, unlike her mother competitively rocked by the talented and sweet-nosed Meher Vij. The duo look like they are mother-daughter in real life, what with their seamless connection and similar complexion. If Wasim is the captain of this ship then Vij is the second captain with Khan sitting in the corner as an adviser with wisdom and energy to drown in. Special mention to Raj Arjun, who is the mole in this ship, for pulling off the father character so impeccably that you want to beat him up.
One of the many reasons why Secret Superstar works and never bores you is the tiny references that it makes to life in general. Taking potshots at the music industry, surface touching the current Weinstein-inspired scenario, the oppressed family living in a society called “Modern Colony”, and the sexism that is so prevalent around us are to name a few. These references are tidbits that make the broth tastier and prevents you from focusing on the mannered narrative. The soundtrack is thankfully not cheesy and gels wells with the screenplay. Music is an integral part of what Insia dreams to achieve, and that’s one thing that the film gets correct in terms of picturization and flow.
It tugs at your heart as you root for this charming little lady with a guitar in one hand and grit in another. Secret Superstar is a warm and engaging film about being fearless and moving toward your dream no matter what, and with a sweet little love story hidden in the core, it scores. It scores big.
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